As some of my friends know, I love boxing. I trained as a boxer for many years and in High School boxed as an amateur. I loved how isolated and fair the sport was. Team sports were difficult for me because I really didn't understand the rules of many sports growing up. My dad died when I was of an age to learn from him, and after that, I entered a more private, interior world. Still, I was very fast and aggressive. I enjoyed playing hockey, football and baseball with my friends, but never dared play these sports on a team. I did play baseball the spring after my dad died and it was horrible. I was in no mood to play and every game was approached with dread. I stayed away from team sports until Jr. High School and played football. The coach was a great guy and helped teach me the sport, but I quit that after I found Track a better fit. I was a sprinter and actually went one season losing only one race. Boxing was the dream though. I wanted to try it having grown up loving Muhammad Ali. I wrote to a local Police Athletic League and got a quick response. They welcomed me with open arms.
Boxing is a complicated and intricate sport to do right. I was never a heavy puncher but my speed was an asset. I also hated getting hit in the face and learned to evade getting hit in the head, though some say not enough. I followed the sport religiously and read every book about it.
As time went by I started to recognize my true talents and I pursued art in college. After I graduated and began illustrating, I found myself in Philadelphia, living in a neighborhood with a boxing gym.
My weight was no longer a svelte 147, so I entered the gym and started working out. Quickly, I fell in love again. This was a real gym, inner city, gritty and full of life. The fighters were all shapes and sizes except white. I was the only white guy. This earned me the nickname, ďRockyĒ to the kids in the gym. In this gym I learned that my skills were pretty good, but I knew nothing about fighting inside, a Philly specialty. I also learned that I was not going to ever be a boxer. Every good boxer in that gym taught me that lesson in sparring. Boxing was something I learned and I thought about how to do it all the time. To throw a left hook I had to think of the mechanics of it and try it out over and over. The gym was understaffed and I began training kids. This was an amazing addition to my life and helped me in ways I wonít go into in this article but someday soon.
The gym was busy but poorly run. I was the guy who was there at 5 as it opened up and stayed until it closed. Trainers stopped coming on time, probably because they knew I would open up so I was given access to the gym and was now a serious trainer. I could articulate how to do things, how to deal with fear and soon was allowed to help train the professionals. My favorite was a guy named Tommy. He was a strong southpaw featherweight, older than me actually. Training him was a challenge. I had to do everything backwards and work with him with my knees bent really low to assume the size of fighters he would meet in the ring. He was a great, gentle guy who was a garbage collector in the wee hours and would go home, run, then go to the gym. Dedication.
As a trainer I had the experience of trying to relax a fighter before a fight. Kids usually find out who they are fighting minutes before a fight. Pros sign contracts and know weeks or months ahead. Tommy fought many times at the Blue Horizon and I will forever remember those seedy, backroom dressing rooms where fighters eyed each other and trainers did their best to deal with their fighterís anxiety. I would talk to Tommy about anything but boxing until a half hour before he was to go into the ring.
One magical night, in a televised fight, I was with Tommy as he prepared to fight an Irish fireplug from Dublin. He was a hard punching guy and Tommy was talking about going right after him. What were working on with him was to get him to counter wide shots to the head by taking them on the glove they throwing short, sharp hooks inside. When the fight started Tommy was being out punched. He was out of his fight, winging wild punches back. It took a few rounds for him to calm down and recognize that he was not going to win this way. IN the third everything changed. He stayed inside and threw crisp shots as counterpunches and after a few exchanges, had his rival dizzy. A punch or two later and this nice Irishman was knocked out and I lifted a very light Tommy up over my head and listened to this crazy Philadelphia crowd roar with joy.
Peter Cusack has been posting some lovely paintings with boxing themes and it made me think of the sport I love. I kind of put it on hold as I trained for the marathons these past two years. To rehab a dislocated shoulder Iíve been boxing again. I love it.
Iíve always had a hard time taking this sport I love and turning that into paintings. For some reason for me, itís more difficult to imagine. Photos of boxing are amazing and enough for me, but painterly works are cool too. Ordinarily my painting style is too stiff for the action scenes and better at moments. I had an opportunity to illustrate an article by Teddy Atlas about the quiet moments fighters have with their trainers. Drawing on my experience in the dressing rooms prior to fights, I did this little painting.
This was an alternate sketch. I like it very much and to mix things up would have preferred doing it, but I was hired to paint people and It was enough that I didn't have to paint their heads.
I shot photos of all the fighters in the gym back then. I must have been an odd person for them to meet. I think in the end all of our horizons had broadened.
I miss Tommy and lost touch over the years. I have many stories about my time in Philly and when I get a chance will add a few in the future.
I have enjoyed placing work that I've done and am proud of on Drawger. The comments and encouragement help me in ways I can't adequately express. I must just say thank you.
In 2008, I want to expand just a bit by showing work by others that I like or have seen in print. It's hard to pick just one. The recent OP-Ed illustration for the New York Times by Thomas Fuchs is a great image. Thomas has a great mind and can solve problems with solutions in ways I've not seen before.
This illustration of trying to win over voters is clever and well executed. I have always loved the simple brilliance of artists like Guy Billout and David Suter. Thomas is right up there.
I like that my fellow Drawgers are offering their pieces here to accompany the upcoming show at the Society of Illustrators. I'd like to put mine up here too.
It was for Mother Jones, assigned in November of 2002. The anti-war rally happened as this came out and posters were made of it and passed out. Quite a thrill for me to see.
I have a sketch but can't find the one I did for the final. As I recall it, going it alone was the theme and I did some with Bush wearing blinders (Anita did a fantastic version of this one) and another based on a Mark Tansey painting of soldiers going into battle on horseback riding backwards. (His is far cooler in that you don't see the actual scene, merely the reflection in a puddle). I was drawing him on a horse over and over and one time as I drew the horizon line from right to left I STOPPED. AHHHhh! Perfect. I thought of my youth and the hours watching Wiley Coyote fall off cliffs. This was the image I was looking for.
The other image is for a book for Walter Dean Myers called 'Sunrise Over Falluja' The AD was Elizabeth Parisi.
This one was almost my choice but I wanted my opposition to this war loud and clear.
I like this cover though and I worked on it for a long time for me. A scene that looks very photographic but does not exist.
a small shot of the cover
The spread for Sunrise Over Falluja by Walter Dean Myers
Barack Obama 2008
According to Exit polls in Iowa, it appears that Senator Barack Obama has a solid victory in the Iowa Caucuses. Obama 38%, Edwards 30% and Clinton 29%. Huckabee beat Romney 34% to 25%. Ron Paul beat Rudy 10% to, um, 3%.
Senator Obama won in a largely white state and is connecting with voters.
I am a democrat who wants to hold the White House so I want to support a candidate who can and will win. I'm thrilled for this Obama Victory tonight and wonder how things will play out now.
My portrait of Barack Obama was commissioned by Rolling Stone for the current issue. The piece, a glowing portrait of a surging Obama is by Matt Taibbi.
The assignment was to paint him in a traditional iconic manner.
It's fun to rip politicians with scathing illustrations and visual puns, (calling all art directors!) but when an assignment gels with my views, it's so great and it's all I can do not to freeze up.
As Taibbi passionately writes in his piece, "America and Barack Obama. The story begins with the world spinning off its axis, the country mired in dark times and the way of the fresh-faced savior seemingly blocked by a juggernaut agent of the Status Quo. Only in the end, in the moment that sportswriters die for and that comes once a generation in politics if we're lucky, the phenom rises to the occasion, gets the big hit in the big game and becomes a man before our very eyes. The old power recedes, and the new era is born."
More colors used that usual. Maybe I'm changing a little. Can it be the Zina effect?
A sketch that was picked for the pose, not the sappy background. I posed for the body.
This one was a very pensive pose and portrait. I did the portrait without the article so offered sketches with different moods to try to hit the mark.
The AD liked the background but not the portrait here so I combined the two elements to arrive at the final.